Trail: Hancock Notch Trail > Hancock Loop Trail
Hours: 4:30 hiking, 5:00 total
June 23, 2019
North Hancock (4,420’) and South Hancock (4,319’) used to be the most remote mountains in the White Mountains before the Kancamagus Highway was built! These two mountains are hiked together as a loop. The parking for the hike is at the famous hairpin turn along the Kancamagus in Hancock Overlook Parking Area. The trail begins across the street, but the signage is great, so it is easy to find.
NOTE: This hike gains a total of 2,500 feet of elevation. The first part of the hike is very easy with gradual elevation gain. Most of the elevation is gained on the Hancock Loop Trail. This portion of the hike is very steep and does not have good footing due to a lot of roots and loose rocks.
Alex and I began our hike to North Hancock (4,420’) and South Hancock (4,319’) on a beautiful Sunday at 9:15 AM. This was our first hike of the season, so we were very excited! We usually hike at least once before the end of June, however, we had a lot of snow and rain which deterred us from hiking.
The first two miles of the hike flew by! It was very easy and mostly flat, so we were hiking very quickly. It was a classic bait-and-switch, but we knew that was the case, so we used this portion of the trail as a warm-up for our legs. It was much needed for what was to come. During this portion of the trail, there were a few stream crossings, none of which were too complicated. It rained every single day the previous week, but these crossings did not give us trouble. Other than the few stream crossings, it was pretty uneventful.
We soon came to a junction and stayed to the left to continue on our way to the summits. This was where we began to gain some elevation. This portion of the trail was very muddy, but it was easily avoidable! I did, however, get my hiking boot stuck in the mud at one point…YUM.
After about 0.7 miles, we came to another junction and stayed right this time to continue towards the Hancock Loop Trail. The signs were pretty clear on pointing us in the correct direction which was great. I feel as if sometimes in the White Mountains, the signs can be very unclear, so we always bring a map or download a map of the hike we are doing. I would highly recommend doing one of the two, so you always have guidance if the signs fail you.
The trail switched every so often from gaining elevation to flat sections, so the next mile was pretty easy on the legs. We soon came to the final junction of the hike which is where the Hancock Loop Trail splits. Heading right would take us to South Hancock and heading left would take us to North Hancock. Both are pretty miserable ascents, I’m not going to lie. The loop is where we gained what felt like ALL of the elevation.
We decided to ascend South Hancock first because we read that it was a better ascent. It was SO TOUGH. I swear we were climbing at a 70° angle until we reached the summit. WOOF. The trail required big steps and lots of butt muscle assistance. It was pretty good footing, though, which helped!
After what felt like forever, we made it to the summit of South Hancock at 11:15 AM! Both summits had small overlook clearings that were beautiful! We spent a few minutes here before starting the trek to North Hancock. The hike over to North Hancock was 1.4 miles and was very easy. It was a beautiful hike, too! Before we knew it, we were at the summit of North Hancock!
Similar to South Hancock, North Hancock had a small overlook clearing with a beautiful view. Most people hike to North Hancock first, so the overlook was very crowded. We were lucky enough to find a small spot to eat our lunch and take in the view. We didn’t stay here for too long though because it kept getting more crowded, so around 12:15 PM we began our descent!
The descent was MISERABLE!!!! The entire descent on Hancock Loop Trail from North Hancock had loose rocks and very steep sections. I almost wish we went up North first, but either way, the descent would have been miserable. We took so long to get down the first section because we had to cling onto trees to prevent us from falling. It was pretty sketchy… And a group of kids was FLYING down this portion of the trail! I had anxiety watching them.
We survived the sketchy descent and began our final hike down. The hike down for us on longer hikes always feels as if it takes forever. The steep ascent and descent took a toll on our legs, so we wanted to get back to the car quickly to stretch. We made pretty good time and made it to the final 2 miles quickly. This was the portion of the hike that seemed to go on forever. It didn’t help that the trail was straight, flat and eventful.
When we finally arrived back at the car at 2:15 PM, we immediately stretched and rested. With this being our first hike of the season, our legs were very shaky. It always feels so good to stretch out sore hiking legs!
Overall, the hike was pretty easy except for the Hancock Loop Trail which was pretty miserable. The views were beautiful even with the small clearing, so they made it all worth it!